Quick thought: Renewable energies are like stocks – diversify if you can

Renewable energies are like stocks: if you want long term investing success you must diversify your portfolio. In the same manner, if you want long term electricity security you must diversify your energy production as far as it remains feasible. I am not calling for London to invest heavily in solar but regions that can diversify must do so.

It is no secret that I am sometimes overly optimistic about the era of renewable energies. After all, renewable energy has the potential to solve many of the worlds greatest problems. The entire list of benefits of renewable energy need not be listed, but are there drawbacks? Solar doesn’t work when the sun doesn’t shine and wind farms don’t produce energy when the wind does not blow. However these are short term electricity insecurities that can be solved using batteries or integrating into an energy interconnection grid. What if electricity insecurities are not merely short term? What if   billions of dollars are invested into renewable energy plants, which rely on current weather patterns to continue when research suggests they are bound to change?

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I believe that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (above) is a project that may fall into this trap. Those that are familiar with Africa’s largest infrastructure projects will certainly be familiar with this colossal project. According to New Business Ethiopia the Ethiopian government aims to fund the entire project and have issued bonds to raise the necessary funds. However, with climate change seemingly set to create extended periods of draught in the region where electricity generation is already almost entirely dependent on hydro, could the $4.8 billion have been invested elsewhere?

In a paper by Declan Conway of the London School of Economics and Political Science, he shows that in the long term, many locations of planned dam projects will face vastly different climates than they have today. This means that if the planning of these projects are not done with a very long term mindset, the money could be used better elsewhere. If future climate variability is not factored into the design, construction and management of hydro projects in Southern and Eastern Africa, we could find ourselves sitting with ‘white elephants’ before the construction is even complete.

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I do not for one second suggest the region abandon hydro as it is certainly an opportunity to further their green development. However, with 90% of national electricity generation in Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia coming from hydro power (Future Climate For Africa), it is time that the region diversifies their electricity sector. Not diversifying could have unthinkable consequences and would undo decades of progress. It is understandable to be optimistic about the ability of renewable energies in limiting emissions in order to avoid irreversible changes to the climate, but we must be prepared for the contrary.


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